Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year From Henrietta And Hank!

Henrietta here. This is an early picture of me. I managed to get rid of the scarf, don't worry.

May you all have a happy and healthy new year. Until we dogs take over, that is. These are our enemies:

But we are willing to live in peace with them. Sort of. Something for the wingnuts to learn, eh? I hope you have all the bones you can chew and that all the other dogs bow in front of your great esteemity. Yours, in solidarity,


Writing About Sex Well

It is very hard. That's one of the reasons I don't do it much on my blog. The other one is that I don't know enough! Must get more experience first, you know.

That may be the problem with the sex descriptions in the many books American politicians have written. Maureen Dowd's column gives us some of these:

Conservatives are having fun e-mailing around the sex scenes in Barbara Boxer's new novel, "A Time to Run." A particular favorite is the equine entwine on Page 210, when "these two fierce animals were coerced into their majestic coupling by at least six people."

"The stallion approached, nostrils flared, hooves lifting with delicate precision, the wranglers hanging on grimly," Ms. Boxer wrote with her co-author, Mary-Rose Hayes. Soon, "the stallion rubbed his nose against the mare's neck and nuzzled her withers. She promptly bit him on the shoulder and, when he attempted to mount, instantly became a plunging devil of teeth and hooves."

Ok. That's a liberal attempt at describing animal sex. Here is Scooter Libby giving us the wingnut view of animal sex:

When Scooter Libby got in trouble over Valerie Plame, The New Yorker dug out his 1996 book, "The Apprentice," and reviewed its sex scenes. Lauren Collins took note of its homoeroticism and incest, and compared some passages to Penthouse Forum.

Scooter had his own animal erotica: "At age ten the madam put the child in a cage with a bear trained to couple with young girls so the girls would be frigid and not fall in love with their patrons. They fed her through the bars and aroused the bear with a stick when it seemed to lose interest."

These are enough to make celibacy look most interesting, even for the majority of us who don't think of animals as possible sex partners for humans. And Libby is one sick puppy. Sick.

But writing about sex is not easy. To prove it, I will give you my worst poem of all times. It was an attempt to objectify the penis as a fruit, like melons or peaches are used to denote women's breasts. Here it goes (ducks head in shame):

Bananas are yellow. Bananas are sweet.
They slake my thirst.
The bees buzz.

Bananas are mellow. Bananas are meat.
Their skins burst.
The bees buzz.

And the golden fuzz on my arms
stands erect.

Heh. I think I have turned all of you off sex for the night.

Friday, December 30, 2005

My Christmas Vacation (by G. Bush)

Today I had a good time clearing brush.

More on the Pew Study about Gender and the Web

The post below discusses some of my general concerns with the Pew study. This one gives an example of how the popularization of findings warps their meaning and serves to reinforce existing gender roles. This example applies to some of the study findings where the differences between men and women were found to be statistically significant. As I point out in my next post the study found no gender differences on a vast number of questions.

I'm going to excerpt a piece from one of the newspaper articles about the study results. It goes like this:

But she said online behavior reflects traditional offline behavior among the sexes. Women like to go online to use e-mail to nurture and build personal relationships, look for health information, get support for health and personal problems, and to pursue religious interests. Meanwhile, men go online to check the weather, read news, get do-it-yourself information, check sports scores, investigate products and download music.

Notice how women do certain things and men do other things? Here are the actual percentage differences as found in the study:
-using e-mail*: women 94% men 88%
-seeking health information: women 74%, men 58%
-getting support for health problems: women 66% men 50%
-pursuing religious interests: women 34% men 25%
-checking the weather: women 75% men 82%
-reading the news: women 69% men 75%
-getting DIY information: women 50% men 60%
-checking sports scores: women 27% men 59%
-investigating products: women 75% men 82%
-downloading music: women 20% men 30%

Now re-read that little paragraph above. Can you see the enormous distortion?
*The percentage using e-mail may not measure whatever the nurturing and building relationships might mean, but it was the figure directly preceding the others quoted here.

Gender and Web Use

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has just released a new report on gender differences in the use of the Internet. It is fascinating to analyze the way this report is discussed in the popular media. Here are some tidbits:

Deborah Fallows, senior research fellow at Pew and author of the study, told the Chicago Sun-Times, "There has been a 'feminization' [of the Net] in the sense that women took a different fork in the Internet road from men. Men use and appreciate the Internet more for the experiences it offers -- to do things -- and women use it and appreciate it more for the human connections they build."

Steve Jones, an Internet researcher and communication professor based at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the report demonstrates that "Net users are not some kind of monolithic 'them' and the Internet is not just a giant mass medium. The Internet is a multi-medium, which men and women use differently."

Fallows expected that the Net would free the sexes to behave in "unstereotypical ways," such as men acting more "touch-feely" and women being more comfortable exploring new technologies.

But she said online behavior reflects traditional offline behavior among the sexes. Women like to go online to use e-mail to nurture and build personal relationships, look for health information, get support for health and personal problems, and to pursue religious interests. Meanwhile, men go online to check the weather, read news, get do-it-yourself information, check sports scores, investigate products and download music.

Fallows found that women like to use the Net to send e-mail and e-cards and are pulling ahead of men in use of instant messaging and text messaging on cell phones, while men are more likely to use online chats and discussion groups and to make Net-based phone calls.

Or this one:

"If there is an overall pattern of differences here, it is that men value the Internet for the breadth of experiences it offers, and women value it for the human connections," Fallows said.

And then we generalize one more step and come up with this headline:

Men want facts, women seek relations on Web - survey

Interesting. Let's see what the study actually says, what the basis for these generalizations might be. I am going to do something that is not usually done with studies which analyze gender: I am going to give you a small example of all the things in which no gender differences were found by the researchers, and this is only a tiny sample. You can pick almost any table in the study and find only one or two statistically significant gender differences.

Here it goes:
Men and women are equally likely to log on from work, to have internet sessions of varying length, to access the net daily or only every few weeks, to have dial-up at home or at work. Men and women are equally likely to use a search engine, to get information on hobbies, to get travel information, to buy a product on the Internet, to buy or make travel reservations, to watch videos or to listen to audios, to visit a government website, to look up phone numbers or addresses, to take a virtual tour, to instant message, to bank, to play online games, to get information on where to live, to get information on someone, to share files, to read a blog, to download computer games, to donate to charity, to send e-invitations, to create a blog, to take classes for credit, to play lottery or gamble and to order from spam.

And this is just from the first section of the study report. But because the purpose of the study is to find differences, differences are all we are going to hear about.

Let's look at the difference which became that last headline I quoted, the one about men wanting facts and women seeking relationships on the net. Here is what the study says on this question:

More men, 30%, than women, 25%, said the internet helped them a lot to learn more about what was going on, while more women, 56%, than men, 50%, said it helped them connect with people they needed to reach. These differences are statistically significant.

The results are statistically significant, yes, but are they practically significant? We are not talking about all men looking for facts and all women looking to connect; we are finding a fairly small percentage difference in the answers of men and women to questions about facts vs. connections.

And this difference of roughly five percent becomes....what? It seems that it becomes a wholesale judgement on all women and all men who use the net.

For the sake of fairness I should note that the contents of this quote are not the sole basis of the researchers' conclusion that men prefer facts and women connections. They also use the small percentage differences in various answers to e-mail questions. And a biased way of viewing what "facts" might be, I might add. After all, seeking support for a health problem on the net does not preclude also learning many useful facts from the very same support group. Likewise, action and relationships in general are really not mutually exclusive categories that can be easily assigned to male or female interests. Mostly they overlap. Just think of sex. Well, think of sex after you finish reading my post.

I very much doubt that Deborah Fallows, the senior researcher of this study, actually expected not to find what she "found", for it is her interpretation of the findings more than the findings itself that cause the impression of greater sex differences than actually exist. The only really sizeable difference* in the whole study is in the percentage of men and women who use the net to find sports scores, by the way.
*On second reading I found another largish difference in the percentages of men and women looking up financial information on the net.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

On Scientific Scandals

The Korean stem cell scandal is still growing:

The scandal surrounding disgraced South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo Suk deepened today as an investigator told reporters in Seoul that none of the 11 tailor-made cell colonies Hwang claimed to have created earlier this year actually exist.
Korean news outlets also reported that the ongoing probe into one of the biggest scientific frauds in memory had broadened to embrace allegations that government officials -- concerned about the shame such revelations could bring upon their country -- may have attempted to bribe scientists who were considered potential whistleblowers.

Scientists are supposed to be ethical. Like clerics, aren't they, in some ways? Those of us who don't believe in religious ideas often have the same kind of blind belief in science. Thus these scandals that crop up once in a while are a good reminder not to take anything as a matter of blind faith.

The scientific system has many built-in checks for problems in someone's research project, but they are not perfect. Having to present papers in conferences and having to offer the research to unknown reviewers are not only fun ways of harassing other researchers; they do have a point in trying to keep them honest. But none of these safeguards is perfect as the Korean story reminds us. Then keep in mind that most political think tanks don't even use these basic safeguards. A good reason to read very critically indeed.

What research gets to be published can be biased even in the absence of any actual fraud. We have a tendency to focus on the unusual findings, on differences, on a new drug being successful as opposed to it being a failure. Published research therefore overstresses findings of a particular sort and understresses other types of findings.

In the field of gender research these biases mean that what we tend to hear about are new findings of differences between sexes, and especially those new findings which can be easily popularized. Research that doesn't find any differences between men and women will not even get printed in the obscure academic journals, let alone discussed all over the popular press.

All of this is good to keep in mind when leafing through scientific publications. Another nice check on our desire to take new findings at face value is to do some historical research. For example, go to the library and see what the popular scientific publications touted in, say, 1975 as absolute truth. You will be very surprised.

King Kong and Feminism

Men are not from Mars, after all. They are King Kongs! And women have the job of civilizing these monsters. A movie review of King King with the title I gave this post tells us so:

In a way, all men are King Kongs: powerful, brooding, potentially destructive creatures waiting for a woman to touch their hearts and tame them.

And all women are Ann Darrow, simultaneously fragile and compelling, possessor of the magic to transform primitive males (monsters-in-waiting) into protectors and the builders of families and civilizations.

This is a very old myth Don Feder, the writer, brings us, and a very appealing one, because it tells the men that nothing they do is really their fault; it's the women who failed in transforming them into something useful. And it tells the women that they really do have power, an enormous, humongous power, to rule over the men. Too bad that the myth is rubbish.

But the wingnuts love this myth. It makes their worldview into a coherent and logical whole and also explains very clearly why women must act a certain way. For if women leave their civilizing tasks undone the society will collapse. Men will be monsters and they will eat up or rape the women. Only if women agree to be these tiny willowy creatures who can do nothing but sigh on their own will the Western civilization stand. This is Feder's message to us feminists. We have destroyed the world by trying to empower women. But if women are empowered men will be monsters. You take your pick.

Luckily, you don't have to, because this myth is just a myth. Men are not monsters, Don. It's a movie, for Chrissake.


He is quite vile as I have mentioned before. But he is even viler than I thought, because it seems all to have been a political veneer. Now, I can have some respect towards a wingnut who holds his values truly. At least he is logically consistent. But Santorum now burns with an urgency to drop all his talk about Attila-the-hun's family values and the beauty of creationism. And why? Just so that he could get re-elected. This is despicable.

Remember the Dover creationism case? Santorum used to be on the advisory board of the law firm that represented the wingnuts in the case. Now he has resigned:

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) withdrew on Thursday his affiliation from the Christian-rights law center that defended a school district's policy requiring the teaching of "intelligent design."

Santorum, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, is facing a tough reelection challenge next year. Earlier, he praised the Dover Area School District for "attempting to teach the controversy of evolution."

But the day after a federal judge ruled that the district's policy on intelligent design is unconstitutional, Santorum told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was troubled by testimony indicating that religion motivated some school board members to adopt the policy.

Santorum was on the advisory board of the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which defended the district's policy. "I thought the Thomas More Law Center made a huge mistake in taking this case and in pushing this case to the extent they did," Santorum said. He said he will end his affiliation with the center.

The leading Democratic challenger in Santorum's 2006 reelection bid, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., accused him of backtracking. Casey spokesman Larry Smar said that Santorum's statements were "yet another example of 'Election Year Rick' changing his positions for political expediency." Casey has led Santorum in recent polls.

What it boils down to is this: Rick Santorum was willing to destroy this country by his religious extremism for the sake of getting elected. When this turned out not to be the case he changed his stance towards a more moderate one. So it was all an act.

You should be ashamed, Rick.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Worst Headline Ever

Bird Flu Fails to Take Wing

On Tolerance

A long time ago I saw Karl Popper speak on tolerance. This was before his death, of course, but it was fairly close to it and Popper wasn't at his best. Then there was the strawberry wine I enjoyed before the event. All this makes my recollection of Popper's message tinged with fond memories and light-hearted fuzziness. But I'm pretty sure that he said not to tolerate the intolerant.

Tricky, that whole question. Isn't it usually the intolerant that most benefit from the tolerance of others? The shield of tolerance lets them go on building their edifices which will ultimately ban other beliefs. Yet not to tolerate the intolerant takes away the whole point of tolerance, which to me is to allow peaceful cohabitation. Leben und Leben Lassen.

Religious extremists have been skilled in exploiting the societywide value of tolerance (or of multi-culturalism) in the West. Tolerance has allowed them to continue existing in sub-societies where other Western values such as gender equality are completely ignored. Tolerance allows some religious groups to take their children out of school at a younger age than is otherwise legally required, or it allows these children to be taught biased history. Even the organizing activities of Islamic radicals have benefited from the tolerance of secular nations. Yet if any of these groups came to general power the first thing to be banned would be behaviors that conflict with their values. They would ban tolerance.

Tolerance carries the seeds of its own destruction. What are we to do about this? Popper's answer was to refuse to tolerate intolerance, to make tolerance a reciprocal concept. I will tolerate you if you tolerate me, but if you don't...

There is a nice symmetry to his idea, but its practical applications would mean that we would no longer tolerate anybody very different, because most of those groups are intolerant themselves. My head goes dizzy at this point.

Even the meaning of tolerance is often unclear. Is there a tinge of condescension in tolerance? Do we tolerate other values the same way we tolerate a boil in the butt? Or is tolerance something purer, something respectful and courteous? And does tolerance by a powerless person towards a powerful one matter at all?

I don't know. John Gibson, the author of The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought recently gave a radio interview which revealed his definition of religious tolerance very clearly:

From the November 17 edition of Salem Radio Network's Janet Parshall's America:

GIBSON: The whole point of this is that the tradition, the religious tradition of this country is tolerance, and that the same sense of tolerance that's been granted by the majority to the minority over the years ought to go the other way too. Minorities ought to have the same sense of tolerance about the majority religion -- Christianity -- that they've been granted about their religions over the years.

PARSHALL: Exactly. John, I have to tell you, let me linger for a minute on that word "tolerance." Because first of all, the people who like to promulgate that concept are the worst violators. They cannot tolerate Christianity, as an example.

GIBSON: Absolutely. I know -- I know that.

PARSHALL: And number two, I have to tell you, I don't know when they held this election and decided that tolerance was a transcendent value. I serve a god who, with a finger of fire, wrote, he will have no other gods before him. And he doesn't tolerate sin, which is why he sent his son to the cross, but all of a sudden now, we jump up and down and celebrate the idea of tolerance. I think tolerance means accommodation, but it doesn't necessarily mean acquiescence or wholehearted acceptance.

GIBSON: No, no, no. If you figure that -- listen, we get a little theological here, and it's probably a bit over my head, but I would think if somebody is going to be -- have to answer for following the wrong religion, they're not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to.


GIBSON: And that's fine. Let 'em. But in the meantime, as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us without causing trouble, and I think most Americans are fine with that tradition.

PARSHALL: I agree.

GIBSON: In other words, they'd like it in return.

The bolds are mine.

Gibson likes the idea of tolerance as a reciprocal concept, though he believes that the Christian majority has not been tolerated in the past. To put it that way makes Gibson sound ridiculous, and he is. But his point is not ridiculous; it is ominous, because for Gibson tolerance means suffering the presence of the alien infidels, the believers in the false gods, those who will go to hell one day. This is not the tolerance of a compatriot with different beliefs but the tolerance of a commander who has declared a momentary peacefire. It is tolerating the enemy.

And how do you tolerate the enemy?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Meanwhile, in Japan

The Japanese government wants to have more women in management positions. It even wants to have more gender equality! More daycare!

Isn't that wonderful? The only not-so wonderful part of the whole campaign is that its origins have nothing really to do with women's rights but with other concerns, important concerns. That's how women usually get rights: as a side-effect of something that is not seen as trivial women's matters. In the case of Japan it's the dropping birth rates. The Japanese want to make having more children appealing for women and they also want to have more women working. That requires making these options more attractive for women.

Only ten percent of the Japanese upper management currently consists of women, by the way. Two thirds of Japanese women stop working after they have children, though the average number of children per family is very low. This counterintuitive combination hints at the possibility that so many women drop out of the labor force because it's a hostile place for Japanese mothers to be.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Hard Lives of CEOs

Long working hours, little respect. Who would want to run a company in such a world? Well, there are compensations. One is the weird fact that firms which might be doing very poorly for their workers are not always so niggardly with their managers:

A typical chief executive at the biggest U.S. companies was last year awarded $5.74 million of compensation, 30.2% more than in 2003, according to a survey released by the Corporate Library, a corporate governance research group in Portland, Maine.

The average CEO at companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index was paid even more — $11.71 million.

The median increase was more than nine times last year's 3.3% rise in U.S. consumer prices, and double the 15% increase a year earlier. The average increase was 91%, a number distorted by the 27 CEOs whose compensation swelled more than 1,000%.

"We're seeing the kinds of pay increases we saw in the 1990s," said Paul Hodgson, senior research associate at the Corporate Library, in an interview.

Yet these firms didn't all have such great years. Hmmm. I bet you anything that the average worker of these companies didn't see thirty percent rises in their pay packets. A lot of them probably didn't even see the boot that kicked them in the ass.

But what about the high taxes these executives must pay out of their swollen salaries you might ask. Well, even that has been made a little easier:

More than half the nation's largest companies are giving their top executives extra money to pay taxes due on corporate perks such as luxury cars and even on capital gains, according to a published report.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a study the paper ordered from compensation-research firm Equilar Inc. found that 52 percent of the nation's 100 largest public companies revealed that they gave the extra payments to cover taxes, known in the industry as "gross-ups," to one or more top executives last year.

Most of those disclosures are buried in footnotes or attachments of other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and are not easily apparent, according to the report.

That practice is spreading, the paper reports, as only 38 percent of the companies made those kinds of payments in 2000.

While some of the payments were only a small portion of executives' pay, other senior managers received millions.

I want to share their pain, I do. To first read about Christmas in New Orleans and then this!

The wingnut response to my criticisms would be an appeal to the Almighty Market (the wingnuts have two religions, one believes in an angry fundamentalist guy and the other one believes in the invisible hand, or claw, as the case might be), and it would go something like this: "If the CEOs get these kinds of salaries it's what they must be worth in the Market. If they didn't deserve these kinds of salaries the firms they run would get rid of them. As they haven't done so it means that the CEOs are worth their remuneration. They worked hard and deserved it."

This is an answer worth an "F" grade, unless the markets we are talking about are perfectly competitive, which means that the products traded should be very homogeneous, information should be near-perfect and the number of firms should be quite large. The industries in which these CEOs operate don't satisfy these conditions. For example, the international petroleum industry is an oligopoly (with just a few large firms), and firms like Exxon have price-setting powers. Besides, they are in bed with the government which isolates them from the limited market pressures they'd otherwise have. No, economics doesn't absolve anything here.

Then there is the whole moral question: How can anyone really argue that one person is worth this kind of money for working very hard when some other person is working two or three jobs and barely staying alive?

I'm not advocating communism. I appreciate the incentive efforts that exist within a modified capitalistic society. But I'm also acutely aware of the societal problems that enormous income inequalities create. Do we really want to create a country in which the rich must live in gated communities with armed guards because they fear the large hungering masses? Yet this is the direction in which we are heading.


Not really the dreaded writer's block, but I can't find anything that makes me itch to write about. So instead of something profound I will give you something totally trivial: a picture of the gingerbread castle I baked last year:

The icing looks bad because I did it with a spoon rather than with proper implements. It's a fairly big castle; the tray it stands on is a little bigger than your average tray.

The squirrels ate the castle last year. It didn't seem to hurt them.

Dictionary of Republicanisms

This is something funny for you to read in the post-Christmas haze. The Nation has put a list of words and defined their meaning for the wingnuts. An example:

woman n. 1. Person who can be trusted to bear a child but can't be trusted to decide whether or not she wishes to have thechild. 2. Person who must have all decisions regarding herreproductive functions made by men with whom she wouldn't want to have sex in the first place [Denise Clay, Philadelphia, Pa.].

The other definitions are giggleworthy, too.

Too Rich For Me

And I am not talking about all the chocolate I have devoured in honor of this Christian holiday. Which by the way now has turned into Boxing Day or St. Stephen's Day. Why is there a war against both of these honorable days (which happen to fall on the same day)? Hmm.

I must call Bill O'Reilly about this. Maybe next year he can do a long propaganda campaign on the wars against Boxing Day and St. Stephen's Day. But I digress, because of all the chocolate I have eaten.

The richness I started with has to do with all the possible evildoing of this administration. That is a strong word to use, "evildoing", but it's kosher because the administration uses it in exactly the same way as I plan to do here.

Like this: It appears that the president has a habit of calling journalists in to try to stop the publication of articles he doesn't like. Sometimes he is successful (like last year with the New York Times), sometimes he is not:

President Bush has been summoning newspaper editors lately in an effort to prevent publication of stories he considers damaging to national security.

The efforts have failed, but the rare White House sessions with the executive editors of The Washington Post and New York Times are an indication of how seriously the president takes the recent reporting that has raised questions about the administration's anti-terror tactics.

Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor, would not confirm the meeting with Bush before publishing reporter Dana Priest's Nov. 2 article disclosing the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe used to interrogate terror suspects. Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, would not confirm that he, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman had an Oval Office sit-down with the president on Dec. 5, 11 days before reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed that Bush had authorized eavesdropping on Americans and others within the United States without court orders.

But the meetings were confirmed by sources who have been briefed on them but are not authorized to comment because both sides had agreed to keep the sessions off the record. The White House had no comment.

I have no comment, either. I am quite wordless.

But wait, there is more! It also appears that the administration has the habit of paying journalists who agree to write government propaganda without calling it that. I have posted on this before, of course, but I wanted to start this paragraph with that wonderful sentence I hear on the television all the time. In any case, the names here are virgin ones (on my blog, at least):

The admission by two columnists that they accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff may be the tip of a large and rather dirty iceberg.

Copley News Service last week dropped Doug Bandow -- who also resigned as a Cato Institute scholar -- after he acknowledged taking as much as $2,000 a pop from Abramoff for up to two dozen columns favorable to the lobbyist's clients. "I am fully responsible and I won't play victim," Bandow said in a statement after Business Week broke the story. "Obviously, I regret stupidly calling to question my record of activism and writing that extends over 20 years. . . . For that I deeply apologize."

Peter Ferrara of the Institute for Policy Innovation has acknowledged taking payments years ago from a half-dozen lobbyists, including Abramoff. Two of his papers, the Washington Times and Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, have now dropped him. But Ferrara is unapologetic, saying: "There is nothing unethical about taking money from someone and writing an article."

"Nothing unethical about taking money from someone and writing an article." It must be nice to believe that if one is Mr. Ferrara. It guarantees sound sleep and peaceful thoughts.
Added: As Eric Jaffa points out in the comments, the journalists took money from a lobbyist, not from the administration, this time. The ethical problems are pretty much the same, though.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas After Katrina

Desolation. People living in tents or trailers, fighting the insurance companies, waiting for the tardy government aid and fearing that they have been forgotten. Here are some images from a Post-Katrina Christmas:

One tent city built by the Army, dubbed "the Village," sits in the center of the small town of Pass Christian, some 30 miles west of Biloxi and at ground zero for Hurricane Katrina and its assault on the Gulf Coast.

The Village is a gloomy grid of 70 tents, 10 numbered rows of seven each, housing about 150 people - old, young, black, white, poor, middle-class, some so ill that their tents are marked "Oxygen in Use." After four months, some of the shock of loss has worn off and the people go quietly about the daily challenges of securing a warm, private shower, washing whatever clothing they have left, and hoping that their children do not fall ill.

They are grateful for the dry bed and the free food. Everyone knows someone who is worse off, or dead. With tens of thousands of Mississippians displaced and living with families or friends around the country, the residents of the Village at least have their children with them and they are close to home.

A handful of tents are decorated for the holidays, but it seems almost cruel to ask a young mother what she's planning for Christmas.

"We're leaving," she says without hesitation. "Getting out of here for a day or two."

All who are able plan to leave and find a relative. Last year, they were stringing lights and wrapping gifts and waiting for Santa. This year, the great Christmas wish in the Village is to finally get a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Indeed, one reason the place exists is the backlog of homeless people who need trailers. When FEMA closed the shelters and stopped paying for motel rooms, something had to be done. Thus, the tent cities.

Don't ask why it's taking so long to get a trailer because there is no answer. More than 24,000 temporary housing units have been delivered, but 10,000 more are needed. The delays are maddening. A woman in the nearby town of Necaise went to the FEMA office on Aug. 30, the day after the storm, and requested a trailer. She did the paperwork, answered all the questions. She is epileptic; her daughter is diabetic; her husband needs back surgery; their situation is urgent, and she has explained all this to FEMA many times. Four months later she's still waiting. Her story is not unusual.

Plastic snowmen sit among mountains of rubble in nearly deserted neighborhoods. Refrigerators spray-painted with "Merry Christmas" lie on street medians. And signs in front of crumbling houses implore, "Santa, stop here."

In many places, time seems to have stood still since late August when Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast.

The upended cars and sludge-covered refuse suggest that the hurricane hit hours – not months – ago.

The Crescent City remains a shell of its former self this Christmas, with only slivers of the city up and running.

Still, residents are reviving holiday traditions while trying to rebuild their lives.

At Lakeside Shopping Center, mallgoers surveying the Christmas village notice something missing: "Where are the FEMA trailers?" one woman asks.

Things are no better in Mississippi than in Louisiana, even though the Republican governor of the former state pretended at first that everything was just dandy there. Now he sounds disgruntled:

Mississippi's governor, Haley Barbour, has said his state needs $34 billion to rebuild. The state's annual budget is about a 10th of that, with virtually nothing set aside for such emergencies. The bold promises made in the heat of the moment after the storm have so far been pathetically empty. Congress has so far authorized nearly $100 billion for emergency relief and cleanup, but only a third of that has hit the ground.

Not lost on the people here was the recent rush to pass more tax cuts for the rich. And a question often heard is, "Why are we spending billions to rebuild Iraq and not a dime down here?"

Why indeed. Of course the real answer has to do with the (supposed) election of George Bush to run this country as he pleases. And he pleases to spend money in Iraq and to give tax cuts to the rich. That's the kind of Christianity he represents.

But maybe we should finally also learn to set some money aside for emergencies. Not every spare penny needs to be returned to the wealthiest of taxpayers. Or given to the business pals of the party in power.

A Coptic Prayer

I have posted this last Christmas, too. I like it.:

The Thunder, Perfect Mind

I was sent forth from the power,
and I have come to those who reflect upon me,
and I have been found among those who seek
after me.
Look upon me, you who reflect upon me,
and you hearers, hear me.
You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves.
And do not banish me from your sight.
And do not make your voice hate me, not your
Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time.
Be on your guard!
Do not be ignorant of me.

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.

I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.,
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband,
and he is my offspring.
I am the slave of him who prepared me.

I am the ruler of my offspring.
But he is the one who begot me before the time
on a birthday.
And he is my offspring in due time,
and my power is from him.
I am the staff of his power in his youth,
and he is the rod of my old age.
And whatever he wills happens to me.
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

I am the knowledge of my inquiry,
and the finding of those who seek after me,
and the command of those who ask of me,
and the power of the powers in my knowledge
of the angels, who have been sent at my word,
and of gods in their seasons by my counsel,
and of spirits of every man who exists with me,
and of women who dwell within me.
I am the one who is honored, and who is praised,
and who is despised scornfully.
I am peace,
and war has come because of me.
And I am an alien and a citizen.
I am the substance and the one who has no substance.